IN an environmentally fragile state like Himachal Pradesh, the dangers of overlooking the possible risks emanating from development projects cannot be underestimated, as is evident from the state forest department asking the National Highways Authority of India to take corrective action after debris from road-building was found dumped along the Beas. The NHAI has been asked to plant saplings using the jute matting technology to help prevent landslides. With the Centre sanctioning a number of projects, damage to the environment needs to be prevented through periodic checks.
The NHAI used technology like plastic and polythene waste in constructing the Jammu-Srinagar highway because it is believed to be more resistant to wear and tear. The possibility of using plastic as fuel in cement plants has also been explored. Non-biodegradable material which includes construction and demolition waste have also been recycled for use in building highways, providing great relief for civic bodies and the local residents as piles of waste can pose threat to public health. Himachal Pradesh has found controlling pollution in the Beas to be tough also because of the waste generated from adjacent towns being dumped into the river and its tributaries, which points to the problem of urban waste management and the water bodies increasingly getting polluted for want of treatment facilities. The NHAI, while coming up with solutions, should also take the lead in preventing the unscientific disposal of waste because while construction of roads is a pre-requisite for development, it cannot be at the cost of the environment. Agencies executing work on its behalf should give an undertaking to abide by the norms and face action for violations.
Himachal is not just ecologically sensitive but also aware, with villagers protesting disruption to their lives over the dumping of waste and boycotting elections over anticipated damage to the environment. Public awareness can act as a check because only sustainable development can be the best bet for a hill-state prone to the vagaries of nature.
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